The Confederations Cup was formed in 1997 on the premise that the world’s best football nations be brought together – reminiscent of its club football equivalent the Club World Championship. Many football fans would have frothed at the mouth at the prospect of seeing Germany, the Euro ’96 winners, meet Brazil, the World Champions. However, when Germany refused to participate in the competition there could only really be one winner, and Brazil cruised to glory.
The tournament was a feast of thrashings, averaging 3.25 goals per match. Certainly Saudi Arabia and UAE’s leaky defences contributed to this. The Africa Cup of Nations winners Saudia Arabia were hammered by both Brazil and Mexico, succumbing to 3-0 and 5-0 defeats respectively in Group A – with braces being scored by Romario for Brazil, and Palencia and Blanco for Mexico. Saudi Arabia, however, are not only remembered for their humiliating defeats at the tournament. They did pick up a memorable win in the King Fahd Stadium, beating eventual runners up Australia by a single Al-Khalaiwi goal to nothing. As a matter of fact that victory nearly qualified Saudi Arabia for the Semi-Finals, but the point Australia earned in a 0-0 draw with Brazil proved to be enough for the Socceroos.
The team Saudi Arabia beat to reach claim Africa Cup of Nations glory – the UAE – endured a similar tournament. In Group B’s opening match the UAE were not too far away from claiming a memorable point against Uruguay, but goals in First and Second Half stoppage proved to be enough for the South American side. There was also a thrashing at the hands of the Czech Republic. Both had played just two days earlier, but it was Czech Republic, and second top scorer Vladimir Smicer, that responded better to any potential fatigue – with Smicer netting a hattrick in a 6-1 win. Like Saudi Arabia, however, they did pick up a memorable win over Australia thanks to Mubarak’s early goal, and had it not been for the Czech thrashing, they would have qualified for the Semi Finals.
Somewhat inevitably Brazil and Uruguay did qualify for the Semi Finals as group winners, with both teams playing out thrilling final games. Brazil faced Mexico in their final group game. Romario’s 41st minute penalty was the only talking point of the first half, but the second dramatically exploded into action. Although goals from Denilson and Baiano had put Brazil 3-1 clear of their rivals – as responses to Blanco’s equalizer – the Mexicans claimed a late goal from Ramirez, to make for a nervy final few minutes. The eventual winners did, however, hold on to claim a 3-2 victory. Uruguay and South Africa contested a twisty turning game on the 17th of December. Radebe and Silva traded early goals in the first ten minutes, before Inter Milan’s Recoba gave Uruguay the lead on ’42 minutes. When Silva grabbed his second goal to make it 3-1, it looked as though Uruguay would cruise to their 3rd victory. The reality, however, was very different, and far more dramatic. It took a last grasp winer from Callejas to give Uruguay a 4-3 win, after Mkhalele and Ndlanya had hit back for South Africa.
The Semi Finals were not as dramatic. Brazil swept aside Czech Republic in a 2-0 win, whilst a Harry Kewell goal in Extra Time set up a Final with Australia. In the Semi Finals it had proved to be a case of the two R’s shining – Romario and Ronaldo had claimed the goals that put Brazil through. It was the same case in the Final, although the two proved even more ruthless, in the most one sided final in the competitions history. By half time Brazil were 3 goals to the good, thanks to a Ronaldo braze and a single goal for Romario. The race for the Golden Boot proved to be far more competitive than the final itself – although Ronaldo did net his hattrick goal in the 59th minute, Romario also claimed a triple, and the Golden Boot, as Brazil claimed a 6-0 victory, and lifted the trophy on December the 21st.
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